It seems this year that the Republican Antique Ideas Road Show is more about flubs than substance. Having made the cable-show “debates” (which are like T-ball compared to Major League baseball) the center of political attraction, the news media and late night talk show hosts are reveling in their good luck. With the crew assembled it is inevitable that one or more of them will stick their feet (or some other insignificant part of their anatomy) into their mouths. There was no “oops” moment last night in South Carolina, no 9-9-9 upside downside and no smoking gotcha gun moment, but Rick Perry is still as insensitive to political realities as Cain is to a woman’s dignity. Perry’s litmus test for “foreign aid” would be to start at zero and let each country prove it deserves our help. Each country, as Perry admitted, includes Israel. While his campaign was quick to release a statement assuring the Israel Lobby that they would obviously have no problem proving their case for Israel, the mere suggestion that American aid to Israel be re-evaluated is flirting with rhetorical fire. If Obama had made such a suggestion, Fox News anchors would be ranting above their usual derisive decibels.

Perry’s ignorance of foreign policy, while perhaps not as deep-dished as Herman Cain’s knowledge outside the pizza box, is front and center in this case. First of all, there is a cardinal rule in both major parties not to alienate the so-called “Jewish vote”; suggesting that aid to Israel can be reevaluated is not a wise political move, especially when it echoes the Libertarian sentiments of Ron Paul. I suspect that Perry is not aware of the recent book by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt arguing that it is not in the best interests of our government to continually bow to the “Israel lobby.”

Second, Perry appears to have no clue about the nature of our “foreign aid” program. In fact in real terms it represents only about 1% of the total government budget. The vast majority of money pledged as foreign aid is not a gift; most of it comes right back into the American economy by hiring American professionals and contractors and often mandating American-made supplies. Israel, ironically, is one of the few nations that basically receives a blank check. Otherwise, the money we “give” always has strings attached.

Third, the amount of “foreign aid” that is not military is a small fraction of the total. Let’s take Yemen, for example. In 2010, before the Arab Spring sprung a leak in the dictatorial strong-man rule of Ali Abdullah Salih, the United States approved $150,000,000 in military aid to his regime to help him (in principle) to fight Al Qaeda. Our total aid program to Yemen in 2010, including loans as well as grants, was only $48,000,000 but not as a blank check. Even this basically doubled what Yemen had been receiving. Consider that in 2010 the United States provided $3.175 billion to Israel in 2010 as military aid alone; this was about 60% of our entire military assistance abroad. Do the numbers and you will see why any politician who suggests we roll back our aid to zero and let the lobbyists reconfigure the packages is not ready for prime time.

Daniel Martin Varisco